Follow the Herd if You Wish

Anyone who counts on the government to give accurate accounts of the efficacy of taxpayer-funded programs, is–well–an idiot. Here is the proof. (HT: Vox Day)

Anyone who says, “Look at what the consensus says,” ignores more fundamental issues:

(a) On what basis does the “consensus” say this?
(b) How reliable is that basis?
(c) What vested interests, do the “consensus” have in making their claims?
(c) Does that claimed “benefit” justify the “cost”?

With anthropogenic global warming, the “consensus” has made a lot of noise–and demanded some very radical sociopolitical change, all in spite of scant hard evidence of their claims. Even the infamous “hockey stick” is suspect, as the data has “gone missing”. Worse yet, the evidence is mounting that there is tremendous fraud among the “scientists” who are in charge of the process.

We have yet to show conclusively that (a) global warming is man-made, (b) what component of global warming is man-made, and (c) the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed remedial schemes would be. If I tried to sell a product on such flimsy basis to any of my employers–past or present–I’d be laughed out of the office. And yet, President Obama hires “scientists” to head agencies, simply because they peddle such agendas.

The same is true for economic modeling. As someone who has studied economics, I can attest to the veracity of what Vox Day is saying: econometric models have not been shown to work, and yet governments at all levels continue to use them.

Much of the state government financial problems stem from relying on econometric modeling. Before the crash of 2000-2001, they relied on models that suggested certain levels of revenue and surplus. When the crash hit the fan, states faced serious shortfalls because revenue growth failed to match the predicted amounts.

Now, it’s even worse, as states are facing not only shortfalls in revenue growth, but rather declines in revenue.

A shortfall in revenue growth would be tantamount to a state having $1 billion in new revenue over last year, but having budgeted assuming $1.2 billion in growth.

Now, we are seeing the equivalent of having $700 million declining revenues, while budgets were made with the assumption of $1.2 billion in growth.

The latter problem is even more egregious for two reasons: (a) the fundamental structural imbalance for the immediate situation is higher, and (b) budgets for future years were constructed on the basis of growth from the $1.2 billion amount. Fixing the situation requires fundamental structural cuts.

Making matters worse, the situation is the same among international, federal, state, and local governments; large and small businesses; and–yes–families and individuals. Each group took on debt structures based on assumptions of future expectations. But those future expectations have not played out well.

This is why families have had to face job losses, foreclosures, short-sales, even bankruptcy.

This is why municipal governments have had to cut programs, jobs, and even fundamental services.

This is why state governments have had to cut funding for programs and services, and even lay off workers and cut salaries.

This is why businesses–large and small–have had to cut pay and jobs.

This is why governments–state, federal, and international–are relying on printed and borrowed money, in hopes that the economic situation will improve.

This is why governments–state, federal, and international–have an incentive to lie to you and tell you that the economy is in “recovery”.

After all, if the truth ever got out, then they might actually get called to account for their lies.

Duh

While many strong Christians–in spite of their faith–still stuffer terribly from depression, this piece of news is not surprising.

The premise that God’s people can suffer from depression might fly in the face of American prosperity peddlers, but that is not without Biblical precedence. Elijah had to deal with it, even against the backdrop of miraculous victories. The Psalms reflect many instances where David–the man after God’s own heart–was quite besieged by anguish.

Anyone who thinks that a strong Christian must never suffer depression, is smoking something I want legalized.

Still, it is quite interesting to note that faith–in God–can stanch the proverbial bleeding. Some might read that and say, “Duh!” I would concur.

Not a “Miracle”, but Better than Recent Years

In a very impressive performance, team USA beat Canada yesterday in ice hockey. They have a very good chance of getting a medal this year, which is a great improvement over recent Olympics experiences for U.S. hockey.

Still, the finest performance–perhaps the mother of all upsets–remains that ragtag group of Americans, who walked into Lake Placid and punched the commies in the mouth, 30 years ago.

LaptopGate Saga Gets Interesting…

While there was some initial concern over the possibility of this being more hype than real concern, it is now looking like the complaint has substance.

School district officials say the only time they ever turn on the webcams is when one of the school-issued laptops have been reported lost, stolen or missing, so that they can try to track them down. They concede that the wording in the laptop policy was not sufficient, and did not explain the security feature, but insist that they never spied on students. Lower Merion officials say that they turned the cameras on 42 times in the past 14 months, which helped them recover 28 missing laptops.

Aside from the obvious problem–Lower Merion, by their own admission, embarked on a policy that ran afoul of the 4th Amendment–Karl Denninger points out that this story is on the same level as an 8-letter word rooted deep in our agricultural heritage.

There is a hell of an attempt at misdirection in here that may lead people to believe that the school “only” accessed machines when they were reported lost or stolen.

That is a technological impossibility.

In fact the school accessed, at least to trace the location of, each and every machine each and every time it was connected to The Internet.

That is, they were (and are, if the software is still on those computers) in fact spying, to at least the knowledge of location, on each and every one of those 2,300 machines, whether they “activate” the cameras or not.

Let me explain a few things for those who are reading this Ticker yet do not understand how The Internet operates.

Let’s presume that I have one of these “school-issued” computers because I stole said machine.

I then take it home and turn it on, connect to The Internet via my cable modem, and surf away.

Can the school locate the machine?

It cannot unless the school has previously installed on that computer spyware that intentionally has the computer “phone home” whenever it is connected to The Internet, thereby providing the school with a location trace each and every time it is used, whether it is stolen or not.

This is due to how The Internet works. There are 4 billion “IP Addresses” that exist in the IPv4 space. You could almost literally show up with your machine on any one of them. Now this isn’t quite true in practice, because for routing reasons ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers) and their cohorts RIPE, APNIC and similar attempt to congregate the numbers used in various regions and by various internet providers into contiguous blocks. This is done so that the Internet’s routing table does not require 4 billion entries. As a consequence a “/16”, or 65,536 IP addresses, might be assigned and routed in “one block” to a given cable company. Larger aggregates are assigned “en-masse” to nations and regions of the globe.

But the point remains – it is not possible for the school to “scan” for missing computers – that is, it can’t “ask the Internet to turn on the camera in machine #2323.”

That is technologically impossible.

So what the school has loaded on these machines – what it has to have loaded on these machines – is in fact much more nefarious than is being disclosed.

These systems have to have software on them that “phones home” and checks in on a regular basis with some fixed IP address (belonging to the school.) This function then gives the school the “at that instant” IP address where the machine is located. Once the student’s computer has “phoned in” the school system can then tell it to do various things – for example, capture the keyboard, turn on the web cam and take a picture, or even load and run an arbitrary piece of software (say, to look for a given file or transmit the contents of a file to the school’s site.)

The key here is that the machine must phone in for each separate IP address it connects through before any such remote command can be given to it, because otherwise the “home base” has no possible way of knowing to what Internet address it should direct the command it wants to have the remote machine execute.

This isn’t conjecture, this is fact given the how The Internet operates. It cannot be otherwise.

As such the location of each and every one of these machines is being traced at all times by the school district, whether they claim they are using the “remote camera” feature or not!

They didn’t disclose that in these interviews and articles, did they?

It gets better. In essentially every case all that is necessary to locate a “missing” or “stolen” computer is the “ping” from the remote location to the central site. Armed with the IP address that a stolen or missing machine is on, the person can use a simple command to determine where it is. For instance, my home computer is at 70.169.168.7 – if I use “dig -x xxxxxx” I get back:

7.168.169.70.in-addr.arpa. 17409 IN PTR wsip-70-169-168-7.pn.at.cox.net.

This tells me that the machine is on a network operated by COX Communications. I can then call COX (or ask the police to call COX) and they can tell me (or the cops) the exact location where that IP address is. Many home services “move addresses around”, but given an IP address and a time virtually all Internet providers can tell you who owned the account or circuit that was in use. MCSNet, when I ran it, commonly was subpoenaed for this information by various law enforcement authorities for perfectly legitimate reasons (e.g. tracking down someone engaged in child pornography distribution.) We, like essentially every Internet provider, kept this information on a session-by-session basis because it was necessary to do so in order to generate bills to customers – that is, it is and was an ordinary business record that was necessary for the operation of our firm.

So all the school really needs to track a lost or stolen laptop is the IP address from a “phone home” application. They thus have little if any reason to take control of said machine, or to activate the camera – unless they intend to act as Stasi-style spies.

Discuss Amongst Yourselves

Karl Denninger outlines an idea for health care reform. I agree with most of it.

He’s absolutely correct in this regard: you effectively have two alternatives. The first is one that is more of a pure free-market system. The other is a Canadian-style system.

For all my issues with the public option–having worked in government, and having seen the types of people who would make policy decision, I absolutely have zero trust in any government-run option–it would still be better than the “health care reform” bill that is up for reconciliation. This is because the House and Senate versions have the worst of both worlds, and do nothing to correct the issues that are making the current system a broken one.

Even with his idea of billing the government–at published rates–for the cost of treating poor/uninsured folks with life-threatening conditions, that may be the only option from a practical standpoint. The problem I can see evolving from it, though: providers, in search of sure money, will seek to send as many bills as they can to the government. Even if private insurance is otherwise reliable. Policy wonks will also seek to cover as much as they can, as that creates justifications for increases in their budgets. The accountability of such a system to public scrutiny, would be questionable.

Public Schools are the Enemy of the People

I would have expected Vox Day to report this first, but Denninger beat him to the punch.

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

If the allegations are true, then every one of these “administrators” should be prosecuted for civil rights abuses, and more.

I concur with Denninger’s take on this:

Any official or employee at an “educational institution” that ever attempts anything similar to this with regard to my daughter better like gay sex a lot because I will do everything in my power to see that they receive lots of it in the state prison system for as many years as I can manage to get them confined for.

Pensions: Another Mess for the States

This is a huge problem nationwide–states that put together some really nice, fat pension plans for state workers, and now are facing major deficits in the funding of those pensions, which often include promises of health care coverage.

That funding shortfall–which is in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars nationally–is creating another dimension to the current economic debacle. The current buzz is over the possibility of “sovereign default” involving Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal.

While this is a serious matter–any sovereign default will have serious implications regarding the cost of capital everywhere else, and in almost every market sector–we cannot let ourselves buy into any illusions that this problem does not exist among our several states, and a large segment of municipalities.

Here in Kentucky, we have no small number of State retirees–and a whole boatload of them fast-approaching retirement. Many of them bought into a deal that allowed them to retire at only 22 years of service. (The pension system allows them to retire at 27 years, but also allowed many of them to “buy” 5 years, thus allowing earlier retirement.) This pension system also comes with health care benefits. The financial structure of that system is not sustainable.

When the defecation hits the circulation, you are going to have a mother lode of angry taxpayers.

Disclosure: While I am a state employee, I am not a part of the pension system. My retirement plan is a 403(b) plan, which is dependent on my contributions. When I retire, the taxpayer will not be on the hook for me, or for my health care.